THE High Court in Belfast has ruled that the Province’s abortion law, which allows the procedure only in cases of risk to the mother’s life, is a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The ruling means that women may lawfully obtain an abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape, or incest.
Mr Justice Mark Horner allowed the application by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, and has asked the parties involved to investigate whether it can be covered by extension of existing legislation, or by reference to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The ruling will not please the Churches, and already the judge has drawn fire from RC bishops for his remark that, in a case of foetal abnormality, “when it leaves the womb it cannot survive independently. It is doomed. . . There is no human life to protect.”
The bishops described this remark as “profoundly shocking”. On Monday, after the case, they said: “It is profoundly disquieting that the decision . . . has effectively weighed up one life against another.”
Church of Ireland leaders are considering the outcome. The C of I holds that abortion is permissible only in cases of strict and undeniable medical necessity.
The ruling, which the Northern Ireland Attorney General may appeal against, will give added impetus to the growing lobby in the Republic for similar legislation there; but this would be complicated because the equal rights of the mother and the foetus are enshrined in the Constitution.
There is no real appetite in either jurisdiction in Ireland, however, for abortion to be readily available as it is in England.